The Biden administration in the US this week revealed a meticulous plan for donating Covid-19 vaccines developed and brought to market, as well as patented, by American firms. A longish note on the website of the White House intimated how 80 million doses from the US stockpile of Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. That again leaves the fate of a consignment amounting to 60 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine highly uncertain. Even an emergency use authorisation, or EUA, is being witheld from ChadOx01 by the Food and Drug Administration, perhaps America’s most powerful regulator, whose vast remit covers everything from next generation drugs to meat imports.
The generous and visionary move over vaccines by President Biden should not go unheralded. Nor will it, one suspects. Yet we who have been living through the pandemic and recognise what an important chapter it will present for future historians to piece together, bear a special responsibility to chronicle these times, in a manner that is consistent with facts on the ground.
The truth is that we are now in the 18th month of a pandemic unlike any other in recorded history – within months, its footprint was found in every sovereign territory recognised on Earth, its penetration of human society as rapid as it was pervasive. All the while that this invisible enemy was going about establishing its dominion on what was thought to be humanity’s turf, all the nations – in fact, those held to be the most advanced among nations, were as if paralysed into inaction and atrophy. When they did engage, it was only to point fingers at each other, as hostility reigned on the sidelines of a raging pandemic. With the growing popularity of terms such as vaccine nationalism, the rush to attribute place-names to variants if not the virus itself, and the return of export controls, a form of economic nationalism, the idea that the international community is meant to foster cooperation and comity between nations lies shattered. Could we ever regain a collective memory, I sometimes wonder? Of how nations banded together, how they pooled their resources to pull each other past difficult corners, and how the bonds of unity were the very best guarantors of protection?
Washington will soon commence its vaccine donation program, with an initial disbursement of 25 million doses, around 30 percent of the total. These will be administered to those considered vulnerable and most at-risk in dozens of countries. Scientists already concede that no matter what we manage to come up with now, SARS COV-2 is not going away. Our best hope could just be that the next outbreak isn’t such a zinger.